Germany cancels arrest warrant for Lebanon's ex-central bank chief

Longtime chief of Lebanon's Central Bank Riad Salameh, poses as he leaves office after a 30-year tenure, at Lebanon's Central Bank building in Beirut

MUNICH/BEIRUT (Reuters) -German authorities have cancelled their arrest warrant for Lebanon's former central bank chief for technical reasons, but are continuing their probe and keeping his assets frozen, the Munich prosecutor's office told Reuters on Wednesday.

Riad Salameh, 73, was Lebanon's central bank governor for 30 years until July 2023. In his final months as governor, Germany issued an arrest warrant for him on corruption charges, two sources in Lebanon told Reuters.

Responding to questions from Reuters, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor's office confirmed on Wednesday that the arrest warrant was cancelled on June 10.

The spokeswoman said the cancellation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief - meaning there was "no longer any risk that he will suppress evidence in this function."

She said the regional court of Munich had "confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offences charged against the defendant" and that Germany's "investigations are ongoing".

Salameh declined a Reuters request for comment on the development.

Salameh and his brother Raja are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon's central bank and laundering the funds abroad. They deny the accusations.

Germany confirmed in February that it was conducting money laundering investigations into Salameh and his brother, and had issued an arrest warrant.

The Munich public prosecutor's office said in February it had also seized three commercial properties in Munich and Hamburg with a total value of around 28 million euros, and shares worth around seven million euros in a Duesseldorf-based property company, as part of the case.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office said it had "dismissed as unfounded" an appeal against the seizure order, which it said dated back to Jan. 26, 2023.

Lebanese judge Helene Iskandar, who has charged Salameh in a separate case in Lebanon and has been following up on the foreign probes into him, confirmed on Wednesday that the warrant had been cancelled but that Germany's investigation into Salameh would remain open.

Salameh still faces an arrest warrant in France as part of its own investigation into whether he embezzled public funds, as well as a resultant Interpol red notice.

(Reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich, and Maya Gebeily and Laila Bassam in Beirut; editing by Christina Fincher)